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Is the drug war creeping into Mexico City?

January 27, 2011 | 12:51 pm

Military operation napoles mexico city

On a street corner waking up for the day Thursday in downtown Mexico City, La Plaza observed a military unit on patrol.

A green Humvee was stationed in front of a convenience store, with several armed soldiers inside. One stood behind a mounted automatic firearm. Two troops in green fatigues and combat vests and carrying long assault rifles were strolling down a street, patrolling in the way police officers normally do in this congested capital.

We don't see this often in Mexico City.

Soldiers are generally only visible when they are being transported in cargo vehicles from government buildings in the city center to large bases in the west and south. None of the large-scale operations -- or wild shootouts -- that have become common elsewhere in Mexico have occurred here, making Mexico City somewhat of a haven from the drug war that has left more than 34,000 dead.

But this week the Mexican military pursued drug-trafficking suspects in operations smack in the middle of the sprawling capital.

Marines raided a hotel and a home in the middle-class districts of Napoles and Del Valle, arresting one suspected member of the Zetas cartel. On Wednesday, army units searched homes in the Iztacalco borough (links in Spanish). Is something changing?

Two cartels are reportedly fighting over control of several tough suburban municipalities in the state of Mexico, which rings the Federal District, or D.F., on three sides. An August 2010 report by the Interior Ministry details various cartel conflicts, including that which is occurring on the fringes of the city. Local news articles here and here offer other details on the "dispute" between La Familia and the Zetas in the region (links in Spanish).

La Familia has been crippled by recent government assaults in Michoacan state, and announced it would be disbanding in a fresh "narco-message" that began circulating over the weekend. But reports from Mexico state indicate that the cartel remains active on the outskirts of the capital. The Zetas are said to operate throughout Mexico's southeast and coast on the Gulf of Mexico, but according to the government report, the group is also challenging for control in other states, including in Mexico state.

Last week, 10 people were killed in an attack in the suburb of Ciudad Nezahualcoyotl. Authorities said the killings were tied to La Familia (link in Spanish).

So far, although capos and their girlfriends or families often live in local mansions, the Mexico City metropolitan region has seen almost none of the brutal drug-related crimes that fill the headlines from other points in the country. No ambushes at house parties or nightclubs, no bodies hanging from bridges, no decapitated heads rolled into public places.

Yet the federal military operations in the city this week seem to be rattling nerves and raising eyebrows. The city's attorney general told reporters that residents should know federal and local authorities work in coordination in making "preventive plans" against crime in the capital, and should not worry (link in Spanish).

In an online forum this week, El Universal asked readers: "Federal operations in the D.F., calming or worrying?"

One reader responded: "Of course constant operations are calming, in all of the D.F. or in the state of Mexico. As long as this continues things could get better."

Another reader thought differently: "When the state kills, it teaches killing. Military operations and state violence have destabilized Mexico. It is not the manner to solve the problem of drug-trafficking, which is global and not only in our country."

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Marines on the streets this week in the Napoles district of Mexico City. Credit: El Universal 

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